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Friday, 22 April 2016

Miles Ahead on general release from today

Miles Ahead, the film starring, written and directed by Don Cheadle, is now playing in UK Cinemas from today, 22nd April

This is Robbie Collins review in the Telegraph

"Miles Davis didn’t lead the kind of life that could be sensibly pinned down in a single film. Miles Ahead has the good sense not to try. This is a decade-in-the-making passion project from Don Cheadle, who directs, co-writes (with Steven Baigelman), and stars as the iconic jazz trumpeter himself – and its title neatly sums up where it stands in relation to the typically stodgy cinĂ©ma du Wikipedia with which we tend to memorialise our greatest artists and creators.

Miles Ahead isn’t so much a film about Miles Davis as one that approaches him in a Miles Davis kind of way, improvising its way around the edge of his life, finding stories that were never there in the first place but that nevertheless seem to say something clean and true about him that a straightforward melody line never could.

It’s a film about artistic block that is itself overflowing with ideas – and in this respect, it very knowingly shares some DNA with 8½, that extravagant masterpiece from Federico Fellini, in which a celebrated but exhausted director tries to push through a creative dry spell, only to be tormented and beguiled by his memories and dreams.

In the latter half of the 1970s, Davis found himself trapped in a similar cul-de-sac. Burned out by touring, he sunk into self-imposed exile, during which he binged on drugs and barely recorded a note. It’s the part of his life a typical biopic would skim over – or else acknowledge in the kind of "dark period" montage lampooned by the spoof music biopic Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

Instead, Cheadle’s film uses it as a blank-ish canvas on which to doodle. The story begins with the arrival of Rolling Stone journalist Dave Braden (a superb, Scottish-accented Ewan McGregor) on the doorstep of Miles’s Manhattan apartment. Dave is looking for a scoop about a comeback, but instead he’s half-willingly roped into a kind of buddy crime caper involving some stolen demo tapes, with the usual race roles wittily reversed (Miles is the tough-talking lead, Dave the wacky sidekick).

As Miles purrs in the film’s prologue: “If you’re gonna tell a story, you better come with some attitude.” And attitude is exactly what Cheadle brings to this: after its opening sequence, the film literally cuts to the chase (a tyre-screeching pursuit through the New York night) before backing up a little to a more sensible entry point. Cheadle’s Davis impersonation is studiously carried off (he especially nails Davis’s husky graveyard growl), but more importantly, he makes the character great fun to spend time with, even at his lowest ebbs.

Many of these involve Davis’s first wife Frances (Emayatzy Corinealdi), a talented dancer who abandoned her own career for the sake of a marriage that Davis would soon destroy with infidelity and domestic violence. Their relationship is covered in flashbacks to the 1950s, and Cheadle can’t resist incorporating the famous incident outside the Birdland nightclub in 1959, in which Davis was beaten up by a police officer while taking a mid-concert break.

That’s one of the few greatest hits the film deigns to include: Kind of Blue’s famous album cover is vaguely alluded to in some smoky cinematography (the flashbacks were shot on 16mm film stock), and Davis’s fusion period, including the recording of his music-altering 1970 album Bitches Brew, is skipped over entirely. It’s not that Miles Ahead doesn’t care about this stuff, it’s that it largely doesn’t serve the story at hand, so out it goes in exchange for apocrypha that has an equal chance of irritating Miles-heads or impressing them with its brazen ingenuity.

The 1970s thread features Keith Stanfield as a promising young trumpeter called ‘Junior’ (Davis’s childhood nickname) who’s effectively Miles’s recollection of his younger self: whether or not you buy the gimmick, you have to concede it offers a perspective on Davis’s life that couldn’t have been achieved with a straight retelling.

This is a tumultuous and messy film that leaves you craving all the Miles Davis it doesn’t give you, and I wouldn’t have wanted it to be any other way."

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